My first sip of Frank Family Vineyards actually happened at a local restaurant, Scott’s Seafood. By that time I’d heard so much about the iconic Napa winery, but had never actually tasted anything from them. So I was delighted to see their Chardonnay on the menu, the perfect accompaniment to my seafood dinner. That was over a year ago already, and I still remember how much I enjoyed that wine. So here’s a peek at what the latest vintage has to offer…
With the exception of sparkling wine producers, wineries that focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay rarely play the blending game. But with Fort Ross Vineyard, there’s a not-so-secret third varietal that winemaker Jeff Pisoni gets to play with: Pinotage. While this ‘Symposium’ wine is labeled a Pinot Noir, there’s a little something extra blended in, giving the traditionally light, silky varietal, a hearty backbone and intense texture.
Spoiler Alert: The secret ingredient is Pinotage…
Pinotage was developed in South Africa in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold who was attempting to combine the best of two varieties: Pinot Noir and what was then referred to as Hermitage (today’s Cinsault). Since that time the clonal creation has become somewhat of South Africa’s “heritage grape,” if you will. It’s with that sentiment that South African natives and owners of Fort Ross Vineyard, Linda and Lester Schwartz sourced Pinotage bud wood from the original founding blocks of their native homeland shortly after establishing their Sonoma Coast vineyard estate. They are, in fact, the first private growers to import such cuttings and, eventually, sell commercially. Their estate Pinotage consists of two Fort Ross proprietary clones, MM1 and MM3, developed at UC Davis from that originally imported budwood.
Fort Ross Vineyard focuses their vines to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The interesting thing about tasting from a winery with focused varietal selection is how different the resulting wines are based on individual block location, clonal selection, and of course the winemaking methods. The grapes for the Fort Ross Vineyard 2015 Mother of Pearl Chardonnay consist of old Wente clones, grown atop the estate’s highest elevated vineyards. Winemaker Jeff Pisoni highlights the complexity of the resulting fruit with his minimalistic winemaking approach.
I’d been so eager to taste from Fort Ross Vineyards for so long. The reputation of the South African couple who paved the way for Fort Ross-Seaview becoming an AVA and who are the first commercial producers of Pinotage in California far proceeded them, making them almost celebrities in my book. After tasting the Fort Ross Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir I understood why that reputation has stayed a strong one, and my expectations were not disappointed. Shortly after that review I was invited to visit with the winery’s winemaker, Jeff Pisoni. So on the eve of that visit, I decided to “study” up and taste what the Fort Ross Chardonnay has to say. (more…)